WASHINGTON -- An attempt to repeal some of the billion-dollar tax breaks enjoyed by the five biggest oil companies failed in the Senate Tuesday evening, as expected, when all but two Republicans and three Democrats voted to block its consideration. The final vote was 52 in favor, 48 against -- eight votes shy of the filibuster-proof majority needed to bring the bill to the floor.
All things considered, it was a fairly meek attack on the massive oil and gas subsidies that taxpayers are footing -- even as consumers suffer from high gas prices and industry profits swell to near-record proportions. Tuesday's Senate proposal was only to cut $2 billion worth of subsidies a year from the biggest five companies, and the proceeds would have gone to deficit reduction.
By contrast, President Barack Obama called on Congress in January to eliminate some $4 billion a year in tax breaks to the entire industry, and put the proceeds into alternative energy investment.
And the industry's own lobbying juggernaut, the American Petroleum Institute, estimated that the total cost of all the tax and accounting changes proposed by Obama in his FY 2012 budget could have actually cost the oil and gas industry $90 billion over the next decade. Few if any of the president's budget proposals have even made it onto the congressional agenda.
Campaign donations from the industry are only part of the reason the bill was defeated. There's also an army of lobbyists: The oil and gas companies have spent more than $1 billion on lobbying-related activities since 1998. But looking simply at the amount of money the industry has given senators over the years -- either through political action committees or contributions by people associated with oil and gas companies -- is still telling.
The central dynamic of the vote was the nearly lockstep Republican opposition. While the industry has long favored Republicans with its campaign contributions, in the early '90s it was by less than a 2 to 1 margin. Starting in the 1996 election cycle, the margin shot up to more than 3 to 1.
This chart below, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, shows how much the industry has donated to each senator over the course of their careers.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund totaled it all up and found that the 48 senators who voted with the industry received over $21 million in career oil contributions, while the other 52 senators received only $5.4 million. So each senator who opposed the subsidy repeal received on average five times as much oil money as those who voted for repeal.